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3 Reasons Why People Don’t “Just Ask”

“All you have to do is ask.” “You should have just asked!”

“It can’t hurt to ask…”

The truth is, a lot of people are afraid to ask! How can you get what you want if you can’t even ask?

Not long ago I overheard a conversation at the airport. Girl A told Girl B that she had just made a difficult phone call. Girl A was apparently a graduate student. She explained to Girl B that one of her professors had arranged for his wife to teach her how to cook a special Thai dish. He gave her the phone number and told her that his wife was expecting her call. She said it took her 2 weeks to get up the nerve to call a stranger.

2 weeks!

I know people who would never hesitate to pick up the phone and call the Pope – and they might even get through to him. I know other people who would rather go hungry than send a dish back to the kitchen at a restaurant.

Most people fall somewhere in the middle. Indeed, some questions are easier to ask. “Will you marry me?” is a lot harder than asking for a hotel room up-grade.

You have To Ask

You are constantly asking for what you want or need. It is how you navigate life. It’s how everyone navigates life. And since most people are preoccupied with their own lives, you usually have to ask for what you want.

Really, how many treats would your dog get if he didn’t ask? But dogs ask!

In fact, they sniff out what they want, and then they are “dogged”; they “hound” you and “dog” you until they get what they want. What keeps people from being more like dogs?

3 Things That Keep You From Asking.

Have you ever lay awake in bed with a “worst-case scenario” movie running rampant in your mind? Those vivid, internal movies will repeat over and over until sleep is impossible.

It’s Negative Fortune Telling. When you focus on the worst-case scenario, you prepare for it.

Can you imagine what would happen to an Olympic athlete who stayed up late the night before competition envisioning failure? They would NOT want to compete the next day!  And if they did compete, do you think they would do very well?

In truth, anything could happen. None of us is qualified to predict the future. Since anything can happen, why not imagine the best-case scenario? In most cases, the odds are leaning that way anyway.

Focusing on the worst-case scenario shuts off creative resources, causes unnecessary stress, and makes it harder to ask for what you want. It lowers your aspiration level and will throw you off balance during your negotiation.  But what are you afraid of anyway?

If you are like most people, you have one of the 3 big Fears – and they are fairly predictable:

• Fear of Rejection,
• Fear of Repercussions or punishment
• Fear of being Unprepared.

Since these are predictable and common fears, be smart and deal with them before you need them. Practice asking for little things and dealing with these fears before you have to tackle a big negotiation. When the time comes to ask for something or negotiate, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Fear of Rejection

Rejection happens to everybody at some point and it can be harsh. It makes people feel unacceptable, not good enough or undeserving. It can be embarrassing.

Fear of rejection is often unfounded. You can’t always predict what the other side in a negotiation wants or needs. If nothing else, ask! It can open the door to negotiation and discussion.

This fear also reveals possible self-esteem issues that you may want to address before you ask. Low self-esteem can cause you to lower your aspiration level and you will likely leave good value on the table. Clear this fear and start aiming higher!

A good way to test for a self-esteem issue is to ask, “How would I handle this differently if I were asking or negotiating for someone I love or for work?” If you would work harder for someone else than you would on your own behalf, figure out why and change your mind about it.

Fear of repercussions/punishment

I recently worked with a client who was in the middle of changing jobs. He had applied for jobs within his company and his superiors kept asking for more time. Eventually, he had to find out where he stood with them so that he could decide whether or not to apply for a job outside of his current company.

Even though he was a star employee, he was afraid to ask. He thought that he would appear to be pushing too hard. He worried they might fire him. After he finally got the information he needed, he applied for outside jobs and was immediately hired by another company.

This fear comes up often for women because they are taught to put other people’s needs first. They are taught not to “rock the boat” by advocating on their own behalf – as if it is wrong or bad to ask.

In addition, women place a higher value on maintaining a good relationship and tend to go to greater lengths to preserve a peaceful interaction. They don’t want to ruin good relationships by asking for too much. A really good reference for this is a book called “Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

Another repercussion that comes up for most people is the threat of confrontation and the possibility of an angry exchange. In fact, any high emotion in negotiation scares people. Fortunately, if you think about your negotiation ahead of time and do your research, you will be able to predict many of the emotions that are likely to occur in negotiation.


“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Preparation is an easy thing to do and always yields great results. If you feel unprepared, you might be – and that can be scary! In fact, many of the fears that “dog” people in the middle of the night are the result of not preparing.

Remember, to take time before your negotiation or “asking” to be sure that you are mentally organized:

• Know what you want
• Do your research and know who you are negotiating with and what you are talking about
• Know and be able to explain how saying “Yes!” to you will benefit the other side (in the short term and/or in the long term)
• Have a bottom line – know when to walk away
• Have a Plan B if you need one – your Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)
• Have faith in the future!

What else can you do about late night worrying?

Address Fears early in your negotiation preparation. If you wait until the day before you have to negotiate, you will have to deal with the fear under time pressure. It’s easier to sort things out when you have the time to do it.

When you find yourself thinking of the worst-case scenario, let the movie play out and make sure you get past the scary part. Figure out how you would handle that scenario. You will likely realize that you will (at least eventually) be OK.

One way to really take the fear out of a pending negotiation is to Tap while you talk through that worst-case scenario.  You can do it alone or with a friend.  It works either way.  Click here for a great explanation of Tapping.

Chances are, your actual negotiation (or asking) outcome will be somewhere in between your worst-case scenario and your best-case scenario. Ask yourself, “What else can happen?” “What are the odds of this working out for me?” “How can I tip those odds in my favor?”

Finally, as a last resort, there is always my favorite: The AFI Technique. It stands for “Aw F@*k It”. When you have no more time, when you have done everything you can do, try this. Not only will you relax, but you may improve your chances of success!

I have a friend who was referred by another friend for a job that she felt was way over her head. She was nervous and fretted for days before finally trying the AFI Technique. Much to her surprise, they loved her. She got the job and has been very good at it – and to this day she credits the AFI technique with her interview success.

Cheers and Happy Negotiating!

Nancy Hand, JD, NLPT

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